By Onyedika Agbedo
ALTHOUGH the controversy trailing the recovery of about N13 billion by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission during a raid in Osborne Towers, a luxury residential complex in Ikoyi, Lagos last Wednesday was unexpected, it is one issue that will linger on in the polity for quite a while. Reason: Since the discovery of the ‘loot’, there have been claims, counter claims and denials over its ownership and the question on the lips of many Nigerians is: Who owns the cash? And until somebody comes out to provide an authentic answer, the question will continue to resonate.
Initially, sources had linked the money to former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Mu’azu, saying the building belonged to him. Also linked to the money was an ex-managing director of the Petroleum Products Pricing and Marketing Company (PPMC), Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue. Both Mu’azu and Nnamdi-Ogbue, however, hurriedly debunked the allegation.
Mu’azu had in a statement last Thursday admitted that he took a bank loan to acquire the land where the house was built, and eventually had to sell it to pay back the loan.
Nnamdi-Ogbue, who spoke through her lawyer, Emeka Etiaba last Thursday, also said: “The attention of our client, Mrs. Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue has been drawn to the news making round in the news media to the effect that the large sums of money to wit: $38,000,000.00, N23,000,000.00 and £27,000.00 uncovered by the EFCC from an apartment in Osborne Towers, Osborne road, Ikoyi Lagos, belong to her.
“By this press release, we inform the public (especially the news media) that the said sums of money and/or the apartment where the sums of money were found do not belong to our client.”
Nevertheless, while Nigerians remained puzzled over the ownership of the money after both Mu’azu and Nnamdi-Ogbue washed their hands off it, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Rivers State Government laid claims to it last Friday.
NIA, which is Nigeria’s foreign intelligence service, was reported to have explained that the money was approved by former President Goodluck Jonathan for covert operations and security projects covering a period of years. Reports had quoted an NIA source as explaining that when EFCC operatives stormed the Ikoyi property last Wednesday, they were informed that the said apartment was a safe house of the NIA from which discreet operations were carried out.
The EFCC boss was reported to have rejected all entreaties from the NIA and entered the building, breaking the fireproof safes and taking the money.
“The money belongs to the NIA. It is for covert operations and security projects covering a period of years. The DG has met with the President; he has explained everything to him. The President asked him to put everything into writing and he has done so.
“The entire chain of events was a big misunderstanding. That place was a NIA safe house and you have to understand that the NIA carries out discreet investigation in conjunction with many agencies across the world.
“On the day the EFCC men gathered around the house, the NIA reached out to Magu to explain to him that the money was the property of the Federal Government and the place was a NIA safe house. Unfortunately, the EFCC still went ahead to break down the doors,” the source had said.
But Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, who addressed journalists at the Government House, Port Harcourt, last Friday night, also claimed that the money belonged to the state and gave the Federal Government a seven-day ultimatum to return it, “failing which Rivers State Government will take legal measures to ensure that it gets back her stolen resources.”
Wike alleged: “The money in question belongs to the former Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. We want to confirm that the house in Ikoyi also belongs to Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.
“If you recollect in 2015, we said that gas turbines built by former Governor Peter Odili were sold to Sahara Energy, business partners of Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi at $319 million.
“That money was used to sponsor the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the 2015 general election. From the date of sale of the gas turbines to May 29, 2015, the money depleted from $319 million to $204,000. What was stashed at the Ikoyi residence was part of that fund. We have facts to prove that the said money belongs to the Rivers State Government. The Federal Government must return our money.”
Amaechi has, however, denied any link with the money and the property in question, describing the allegation by Wike as false and malicious.
In a statement issued by his Media Office yesterday, he declared: “Amaechi is not the owner of the $43 million and the Ikoyi apartment in which the money was recovered from. Amaechi has no business, link or connection to the money or property. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi does not know who owns the money or Ikoyi apartment.”
Meanwhile, many Nigerians have dismissed the claim by the NIA as a plot to cover up the original owner of both the money and the apartment where it was found.
Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, in a statement yesterday faulted the claim by the NIA, saying, “the script being acted on this discovered cash is a cover-up that will mar the EFCC and the Federal Government.” Also, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) in a statement issued by its Secretary General, Chief Willy Ezugwu, yesterday, queried: “How can the NIA claim to own N13 billion cash stashed in a private residential apartment. NIA has no office in Lagos?”
All in all, this is one recovery made by the EFCC since the Federal Government introduced the whistle blowing policy that has been mired in serious controversy over its ownership. While some have denied any links with the funds, others have boldly identified with it and even want to take possession. It is expected that the anti-graft and security agencies are investigating all the claims and would come out with a definite statement on the real owner of the cash. Until that is done, the question remains.